Saturday, December 31, 2011

"[...] he has been very naughty."

From: The Daily Mirror (Katrina Zanhak holding Good Words for 1888)

"The National Trust is always turning up odd things in its many properties whose contents defy rapid archiving. Last time I was at Nunnington Hall – one of the pleasantest days out in Yorkshire – they had a display of family bits and bobs found under the floorboards of just one small room.
     They had slipped through cracks or possibly been stuffed there by children; small toys, buttons and the like. Nothing dramatic but a curious addition to the fascination of such ancient places.
     Now the staff at Townend House in Troutbeck have made a good discovery: a library book which is overdue for return by 123 years. A check on the fireside shelves in the lovely old Lake District farmhouse has turned up a copy of Good Words for 1888 which was borrowed in that same year. [...]
     'George Browne, who lived at the house with his wife and three daughters at the time, was an extremely keen reader. I would not expect them to forget to take something back but if it was him, he has been very naughty,' [says Katrina Zanhak, the trust's custodian at Townend]
     He might have been distracted by other naughty things, mind. Two years ago, the trust discovered a stash of saucy 'chapbook' pamphlets, gently erotic stories sold by travelling pedlars, tucked behind more respectable tomes on another shelf. Doggerel accounts of seductions, they included such lines (from one called The Crafty Chambermaid's Garland) as:

He stript of his clothes and leaped into bed
Saying: Now, lovely creature, for thy maidenhead. [...]

     [Katrina] Zanhak wonders if the overdue loan is the longest ever, but sadly this is not the case. In April 2010, the New York Society library did an audit of its records and found that a book on the Law of Nations and a volume of House of Commons debate had been taken out on 5 October 1789 and never returned.
     The borrower was George Washington who famously never told a lie but clearly had other faults. He theoretically owes the library, the oldest in New York, over $300,000 (£195,000) in fines. Worse, the books have disappeared."

To see a related post ("Bad Bard") go here...

Friday, December 30, 2011

"Hal Lindsey has called this unique event 'The Great Snatch.'" (from:

"The two most moving scenes in Tom Perrotta's sixth novel, The Leftovers, come late in the book. In the first, Kevin Garvey — abandoned husband, distracted father, mayor of the affluent suburb of Mapleton — tells a woman he's been dating that he's just heard from his college-age son for the first time in months. 'Were you close?' she asks, herself a bit distracted. 'He was my little boy, I was always so proud of him,' Kevin answers and bursts into tears. A few pages later, Perrotta elaborates: 'It was the phrase little boy that had done it, the sudden memory of an easy weight on his shoulders, Tom perched up there like a king on a throne, gazing down upon the world, one delicate hand resting on top of his father's head, the heels of his Velcro-fastened sneakers knocking softly against Kevin's chest as they walked.'
     In the second, Kevin's companion, 'a pretty but fragile-looking woman named Nora Durst,' writes a letter detailing how her family (husband Doug, 6-year-old son Jeremy, 4-year-old daughter Erin) disappeared.
     What makes these moments resonate is the role of disappearance in The Leftovers, which unfolds in the wake of an event very much like the Christian belief in the Rapture and revolves around those left behind. That this Rapture — the simultaneous evaporation of millions of people — appears to have nothing to do with faith or goodness only adds another layer of uncertainty to the world Perrotta describes. 'As far as anyone could tell,' he writes, 'it was a random harvest, and the one thing the Rapture couldn't be was random. … An indiscriminate Rapture was no Rapture at all.'
     The idea of a Rapture that may not be the Rapture is vintage Perrotta; he's a satirist who likes to poke fun at the vagaries of contemporary life. His best-known efforts, Election and Little Children, take a jaundiced look at high school hierarchies and the quiet desperation of suburban parenthood, respectively, but if The Leftovers has an antecedent, it may be his 2007 novel The Abstinence Teacher, in which a high school sex-ed instructor comes up against evangelicals."
— David L. Ulin, Los Angeles Times

For more information about the Rapture, go here...

You can purchase books by Tom Perrotta (and Hal Lindsey) here...

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Tension and Compression

"The short story is an amuse-bouche: luscious, glittering, to be consumed in a single bite. It should be artfully conceived, but not so dainty that you can’t sink your teeth into it. It should restrain itself to the confines of its setup rather than spilling out messily over the edge of the page. Most important, it should satisfy the reader’s immediate appetites while making him or her hope for more. What it is not, in other words, is a shrunken novel. The story seizes a moment of emotion and captures it under a bell jar. The novel takes the long view, working extended magic through patterning and repetition, more like a multi-course meal: formal or informal, paced leisurely or at a rapid clip, but always exhaustive.
     Chefs, painters, and jewellers all attest to how hard it is to work in miniature. Yet the short story is often mistakenly thought of as a beginner’s form—a literary way-station en route to bigger endeavours. Get your first story collection out of the way quickly, one imagines creative writing students are told, so you can move on to the novel as soon as possible. From John Cheever and Philip Roth to Ian McEwan and Jhumpa Lahiri, writers typically use the short story to cut their teeth before trying their hand at longer fiction.
     But not always. In November Don DeLillo, at the age of 74, published his firstever short story collection. Adam Ross has followed his well-regarded first novel, Mr. Peanut, with a book of short fiction rather than a second novel. And at least half the writers in 2011’s Best American Short Stories anthology—among them Joyce Carol Oates and Richard Powers—are better known for their novels, often significant ones. Many of the contributors’ notes mention that the stories were years or even decades in gestation. Rebecca Makkai writes that her story of an actor whose life is derailed by stage fright took five years to finish. Sam Lipsyte’s contribution took him 20."
— Ruth Franklin, Prospect Magazine

A Thousand Pictures; Worth A Thousand Pages

"In their magisterial new biography, Van Gogh: The Life, Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith provide a guided tour through the personal world and the work of that Dutch painter, shining a bright light on the evolution of his art while articulating what is sure to be a controversial theory of his death at the age of 37."
— Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

"Moody, bookish, given to sudden enthusiasms and bouts of self-delusion, [Vincent Van Gogh] made several false starts in young adult life. Initially he was set to take advantage of family connections, but a spell working for Uncle Cent, the leading art dealer, in The Hague, Paris and London, wasn't a success and Uncle Vice-Admiral Van Gogh hadn't anything to offer so unseaworthy a school leaver. Striking out as a teacher, he spent a couple of months in the Nicholas Nickleby role at a Dotheboys Hall-type school in Ramsgate ('a resort community on the English coast,' N&S tell us). Then, inspired by Pilgrim's Progress, he turned evangelical but lost the plot.
     From a family point of view Vincent was impossible, emulating the Prodigal Son one moment, or collecting birds' nests, or sloping off to dedicate himself to poverty and taking in a pregnant prostitute whom he threatened to marry. 'She knows how to quiet me,' he wrote, knowing full well that every extreme move he made provoked the family on whom he still depended to righteous despair. And then, daftest whim of all, there was the sudden fixation on drawing.
     He was in his late 20s when, with what he himself described as 'passion augmented by temperament,' he took to art and began making extravagant demands on his younger brother Theo, who (thanks to Uncle Cent) was by then an up-and-coming dealer. [...]
     In 1956, following the publicity around the release of [the movie] Lust for Life, an elderly businessman called Rene Secretan came forward with an account of summer holidays in Auvers when he was 16. In July 1890 he and his brother Gaston kept bumping into this weird Dutchman. Bearding the tramp was something to do instead of just idling or fishing or playing cowboys around the place. (Buffalo Bill's Wild West show had been a hit not long before in Paris.) They put salt in his coffee and chilli on his brushes to watch him splutter, and paraded girls from the Moulin Rouge to get him going.
     Secretan the juvenile sharpshooter in his buckskin tunic didn't actually confess to what would have been no doubt an accident, but he indicated that behind a farmyard dungheap in the Rue Boucher, a mile or so from the famous cornfields, a shot was fired and Van Gogh was hit: it was (apart from the grievous outcome) the sort of mishap that a generation or so later occurred on an average Just William afternoon. That the pistol, the painter's easel and his final canvases were never found suggests a cover-up. They were dumped maybe in the nearby river Oise. The Secretan brothers left the village that day."
— William Feaver, Guardian

Buy this book here...

Alone Together

"In prose at once evocative and restrained, the seven stories in Jess Row's debut collection, The Train to Lo Wu (2005), gave rich, full life to Hong Kong in the years just after the British handover to the Chinese. Having spent some time in Hong Kong myself, it was my belief that Row's quietly desperate characters—natives, mainland Chinese, ex-pat artists, and the global business class—were simply attuned to the loneliness of the fast-moving, atomized megalopolis. (The Mongkok district, for example, boasts the world's highest population density, but you can spend an entire day there without speaking a word, or even catching another person's eye.) Now I see that his inimitable solitude is not local, but universal. The stories in Row's new book, Nobody Ever Gets Lost, take us from Thailand to the Punjab to New York City (and elsewhere around the Northeast), but wherever they touch down we find the same thing: psychically wounded people stunned by a world at once too vast and too small. Feeling both isolated and trapped, they seize or manufacture opportunities to connect with family, friends, or even strangers. The trouble is, self-consciously questing for a [Raymond] Carverian small, good thing is the best guarantee against ever finding one. [...]
     Nobody Ever Gets Lost is that rare work which can boast both focus and scope. It is a powerful book, raw and shrewd and brave. If the categorical assertion of the title is true, it must be because the world only ever moves in one direction: forward. Visions of purity—ethnic, religious, national, or other—are always reactionary and will always fail. Restoration of the past is impossible, and calling for it merely exposes the weak soul's fear of the future. This goes for well-to-do Korean ladies anxious about dating black guys no less than for Islamist fanatics trying to dismantle modernity or narcissistic art-brats who don't treat their girlfriends like they should."
— Justin Taylor, Book Forum

Buy Jess Row's books here...

Monday, December 26, 2011

“So this is the little lady who started this great war?” — Abraham Lincoln, on meeting Harriet Beecher Stowe

"[...] Originating as a serial, Uncle Tom’s Cabin appeared in book form in the spring of 1852. By mid-October, 120,000 copies had been sold; by the following spring, 310,000. In England it was even more successful, with sales of a million within a year. Michael Winship has called it 'the world’s first true blockbuster.' It may also have been the first bestseller to produce spin-offs-which came to be known as 'Tomitudes': engravings, games, puzzles, songs and sheet music, dramatizations—in Europe as well as the United States. The book was a phenomenon, in its popularity and its influence.
     Yet by the early twentieth century it was out of print and would remain so for decades. 'Uncle Tom' became an epithet, representing not the admirable saintliness and sacrifice with which Stowe had sought to imbue her protagonist, but—in the eyes of African Americans such as W.E.B. DuBois and James Baldwin—an embarrassing embodiment of black obsequiousness and self-loathing. In the white segregated South, scorn for Stowe’s book claimed different origins: it was seen as part of a long tradition of Northern meddling in Southern racial arrangements. In South Carolina in 1900, a teacher might well make his students raise their right hands and swear never to read Uncle Tom’s Cabin—an unwitting nod to the book’s power as well as an affirmation of the white South’s racial solidarity. Uncle Tom’s Cabin was certainly never taught as literature in the North or the South, because it was seen by critics and scholars as sentimental and overwrought—less art than propaganda. Hawthorne dismissed Stowe as one of his era’s 'scribbling women.' [...]

For [David S.] Reynolds, Uncle Tom’s Cabin was 'central to redefining American democracy on a more egalitarian basis'; it made the Bible 'relevant to contemporary life,' and it 'replaced the venal religion of the churches with a new, abolitionist Christianity.' It also 'established a whole new school of popular antislavery literature,' and at the same time gave rise to the pro-slavery argument, which is customarily seen as emerging in force in the 1830s but in Reynolds’s portrayal does not substantially appear until prompted by Stowe’s novel more than twenty years later."
— Drew Gilpin Faust, The New Republic

Buy these books here...

Friday, December 23, 2011

"This is dedicated to the one I love." — Lowman Pauling and Ralph Bass

"CDs, DVDS, and e-reads are all well and good when it comes to gift-giving at Christmas, but as far as I'm concerned, for sheer emotional wallop, the old-fashioned physical book is hard to beat. After all, it's the ideal opportunity to foist a well-loved novel onto someone who is now morally obliged to read the thing (and, indeed, profess to like it). Furthermore, there is generous scope / enough rope to let a carefully-chosen book speak volumes about how you feel about the receiver. [...]"
— Wayne Gooderham, Guardian

Dear Neil
“Lie on the couch with your hands behind your head & think of the closing chapters of your favourite work of fiction. The rest may be left to me.”
Leaving me to say -
enjoy every word & don’t shut your eyes & don’t think of England.
All my love,
Naomi xx


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Copyrights and Wrongs

From: The Philip K. Dick Bookshelf
(where Adjustment Team first appeared in 1954)

"Plot outline for a Philip K. Dick story:
     Hollywood buys film rights to obscure short story by famous author. Makes movie. Movie makes money. Producers then claim they never needed to buy rights in the first place. Demand their money back.
Emblematic Philip K. Dick story elements: Attempt to turn back time and murkiness of reality. Extra mind-bending plot twist: Author of original story is named Philip K. Dick.
     As Laura Dick Coelho, one of the late author's daughters, told me: 'Everything in the Philip K. Dick world is complicated.'
     She was talking specifically about the personal life of her father — she's the offspring of the third of his five marriages. But her observation applies well to the dispute over the 2011 Matt Damon film The Adjustment Bureau, which was based on Adjustment Team, a short story Dick wrote in the 1950s.
     If you haven't heard of Philip K. Dick, you're at least familiar with his work. He produced a huge corpus of visionary fiction before his death in 1982, including stories that became the basis for the films Blade Runner, Minority Report and Total Recall.
     The Dick estate, which is managed by Coelho, 51, and her half-sister Isa Dick Hackett, 44, optioned the film rights to Adjustment Team to writer/director George Nolfi in 2001 for $25,000. Nolfi, who subsequently wrote the screenplay and directed the retitled film version, had transferred the rights to Media Rights Capital, an independent studio. The producers exercised the option by paying the estate $1.4 million, with at least $500,000 more due once the film achieved its break-even point.
     But the rest was never paid. Media Rights Capital says it has learned that Adjustment Team first appeared in a cheap pulp sci-fi mag in 1954 and that the copyright was never renewed. That means the story has been in the public domain since 1982 and is available for anyone to exploit for free, like a play by Shakespeare.
     Along with refusing to pay the remaining $500,000, Media Rights is demanding return of the money it already laid out, according to the sisters."
— Michael Hiltzig, Los Angeles Times

"An award-winning Spanish novelist claims that the illegal downloading of ebooks has forced her to give up writing and start looking for a new job.
     'Given that I have today discovered that more illegal copies of my book have been downloaded than I have sold, I am announcing officially that I will not publish another book for a long time,' Lucía Etxebarria announced on her Facebook page.
     Etxebarria told the Guardian that Spanish authors faced a difficult future as online piracy spreads from music and film to literature.
     She pointed to Spain's position at the top of the world rankings for per capita illegal downloads. 'We come after China and Russia in the total number of illegal downloads but, obviously, there are a lot more of them so we win on a per capita measure,' she said. [...]
     Etxebarria, who has won several of Spain's best-known literary prizes, said she could no longer justify devoting three years of her working life to producing a book.
     Her latest novel, The Contents of Silence, was published in October and although previous books have been bestsellers, this one is ranked low down the sales list on Amazon's Spanish site.
     It is not available as a legal ebook but can be downloaded in pdf format from numerous websites. The print edition costs more than €20.
     'We decided against publishing it as an ebook because that is easy to pirate. It would have been like throwing it straight to the lions,' Etxebarria said."
 Giles Tremlett, Guardian

Buy books by Philip K. Dick and Lucía Etxebarria  here...

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Books, Bücher, Bøker, књига

"The biggest literary mystery in Scandinavia is not the fate of Stieg Larsson’s last manuscript. It’s not even how many dead bodies will pile up by the end of the latest bestseller by Jo Nesbo, the Norwegian crime-writing king who recently sold the film rights for his international bestseller, The Snowman, to Martin Scorsese.
     The real mystery is how a 10-year-old first novel by little-known Canadian writer Lori Lansens ended up as the second-best-selling work of fiction in Norway last year. Even many Norwegians are mystified by the success of Rush Home Road, a historical drama set in a Southwestern Ontario community founded by runaway slaves. 'I’ve spoken with many, many journalists there and they all ask me why,' Lansens said in an interview from her current home in southern California. 'I wish I had an answer.'[...]

     More recent beneficiaries of success abroad include Toronto mystery writer Linwood Barclay, who managed to forgo an apprenticeship in the domestic market to become an instant star on the international scene with his crime books; and former Saskatchewan technologist Alan Bradley, whose Flavia de Luce mystery novels (named for their 10-year-old heroine) currently epitomize life in a cozy English village for hundreds of thousands of non-English-speaking readers.

     While Bradley made a triumphant press tour of Germany following last fall’s Frankfurt Book Fair, fellow Canadian writer Annabel Lyon watched her image gleam from a six-metre banner touting a new Serbian edition of her award-winning novel, The Golden Mean, at the Belgrade Book Fair."
— John Barber, The Globe and Mail

Get all the books mentioned in this article here...

Monday, December 19, 2011

"a book by any other name..."

From Samuel Johnson's  A Dictionary of the
English Language
(1755) Internet Archive

"Justin Pollard, one of the founders of Unbound, first got the idea for a radical new model for book publishing while sitting in the pub with his friend and fellow author Dan Kieran. 'In the way that writers do, we were having a good old moan about publishers and how they don't get any publicity for their books, and how advances are getting ever smaller,' he recalls. 'I mean, friends of ours, established authors, were getting advances of £4,000. That's a nice amount for a hobby, but not for a proper job.'
     Yet at the same time, Pollard and Kieran observed that book sales were hardly in freefall. More books were being published than ever. People were still reading. 'And so we decided to ask: where is the money going? And what we realised is that the problem isn't to do with middle men taking it all. It's to do with the traditional model of publishing, where you have to pay advances that are non-returnable. Because most books don't earn out their advances, publishers have a huge exposure up front. That's where an awful lot of the money goes.'
     Pollard and Kieran (by now working with the company's third co-founder, John Mitchinson) decided that there had to be another way of doing things. For inspiration, they looked partly to the music industry, and bands like Marillion who, after they were dropped by their record label, asked their fans directly to put up enough money for a recording session and printing. At the same time, they looked back to a much older model of book publishing. 'Subscription publishing is extremely old when it comes to books, Pollard says. 'It's how Johnson's dictionary was published, as well as a large number of 18th- and 19th-century novels.' [...]
     Hybrid books take the best of both formats by giving each printed book a body of extra digital material, known as 'Illuminations.' These are accessed via smartphone or iPad by scanning a QR code (a bit like a barcode) printed within its pages, although the smartphone-less or QR-shy can access the same material via an emailed PDF. Marketing manager Paul Oliver describes the Illuminations as 'an anthology of readings and illustrations that explain the cultural milieu and legacy of the particular novella.' And they've been scrupulously curated, says Johnson, to 'resonate with a real honest reading experience.' "
— William Skidelsky, Guardian

Saturday, December 17, 2011

No Stein Unturned

 Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein, Culoz, France (1944)

"[Gertude] Stein and her long-time partner Alice Toklas held out in the French countryside while France was occupied by the Nazis. So why weren’t they deported like other American enemies, Jews, and lesbians? Stein was apparently protected by a close friend of hers, Bernard Faÿ, an official in the Vichy Government who turned out to be a fascist and Nazi collaborator. Her collection of 'degenerate' art, all of those pieces by Picasso, Matisse, and Cézanne left behind in Paris, were saved as well.
     Questions about Stein’s wartime survival have been addressed in many books. A few years ago they were raised again, more aggressively, by Janet Malcolm’s Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice (2007). When Malcolm’s book came out nobody seemed to care, but now that Stein has had a comeback, the controversy has gained urgency. It was triggered by an article in the Bay Area Jewish Weekly that accused the Contemporary Jewish Museum of using Stalinist methods to preserve an idealized image of Stein. At the same time, Barbara Will’s new book, Unlikely Collaboration: Gertrude Stein, Bernard Faÿ and the Vichy Dilemma (2011) tries to show the 'real' Stein in just one color: black. Visitors and bloggers who had never before read or studied Stein became enraged by certain details snapped up from the agitation: What? Stein had a Nazi friend? Stein said Hitler ought to get the Nobel Peace Prize? Stein a collaborator! Worse, Stein a Nazi! The scandal recently got to the Washington Post, prompting critic Phil Kennicott to review Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories and openly declare his 'hatred' for her."
— Renate Stendhal, Los Angeles Review of Books

"If being a genius is hard work, so is creating one’s biography. In September 1944, journalist and newscaster Eric Sevareid reached the French village of Culoz and met with its most famous resident, and in his 1946 book, Not So Wild a Dream, he reports that 'with all the difficulties, the isolation from lifelong friends, these had been the happiest years of her life.' In her new Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice, a collection of essays and reportage on Stein, Toklas, their lives together and apart, and the autobiographical fictions they jointly created (as all of us must) for themselves and for the reader, Janet Malcolm quotes the Sevareid passage and remarks, 'It was a point of pride with Stein never to appear unhappy.' What Malcolm calls Stein’s 'preternatural cheerfulness' is perhaps the most accomplished of all the self-fashioning she attempted."
— Eric Banks, BOOKFORUM

Get all of the works mentioned in these articles here...

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christopher Eric Hitchens (13 April 1949 – 15 December 2011)

"'In whatever kind of a 'race' life may be, I have very abruptly become a finalist,' Mr. Hitchens wrote in Vanity Fair, for which he was a contributing editor.
     He took pains to emphasize that he had not revised his position on atheism, articulated in his best-selling 2007 book, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, although he did express amused appreciation at the hope, among some concerned Christians, that he might undergo a late-life conversion.
     He also professed to have no regrets for a lifetime of heavy smoking and drinking. 'Writing is what’s important to me, and anything that helps me do that — or enhances and prolongs and deepens and sometimes intensifies argument and conversation — is worth it to me,' he told Charlie Rose in a television interview in 2010, adding that it was 'impossible for me to imagine having my life without going to those parties, without having those late nights, without that second bottle.'”
— William Grimes, The New York Times

"Christopher Hitchens was a wit, a charmer, and a troublemaker, and to those who knew him well, he was a gift from, dare I say it, God. He died today at the MD Anderson Cancer Center, in Houston, after a punishing battle with esophageal cancer, the same disease that killed his father.
     He was a man of insatiable appetites—for cigarettes, for scotch, for company, for great writing, and, above all, for conversation. That he had an output to equal what he took in was the miracle in the man. You’d be hard-pressed to find a writer who could match the volume of exquisitely crafted columns, essays, articles, and books he produced over the past four decades. He wrote often—constantly, in fact, and right up to the end—and he wrote fast; frequently without the benefit of a second draft or even corrections. I can recall a lunch in 1991, when I was editing The New York Observer, and he and Aimée Bell, his longtime editor, and I got together for a quick bite at a restaurant on Madison, no longer there. Christopher’s copy was due early that afternoon. Pre-lunch canisters of scotch were followed by a couple of glasses of wine during the meal and a similar quantity of post-meal cognac. That was just his intake. After stumbling back to the office, we set him up at a rickety table and with an old Olivetti, and in a symphony of clacking he produced a 1,000-word column of near perfection in under half an hour."
— Graydon Carter, Vanity Fair

Buy all of Christopher Hitchens' books here...

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Look Inside

“'When I was born, my parents and my mother’s parents planted a dogwood tree in the side yard of the large white house in which we lived throughout my boyhood,' wrote John Updike. 'This tree I learned quite early, was exactly my age, was, in a sense, me.' Updike might now be gone, but the dogwood tree is still outside his boyhood home in Shillington, Pennsylvania, and the house where the author spent his first 13 years is now for sale on Ebay. It now has wall-to-wall carpeting and an addition, and it appears to have been converted into office space. Bidding starts at $249,000. Nobody has bid on it yet."
— Emily Witt, The New York Observer

As Ray Gustini pointed out on the Atlantic Wire earlier this afternoon, John Updike’s childhood home in Shillington, Pa. has been put up for sale on eBay, of all places. Why use the auction site for the sale? Is it because the owners hope to get more for the property on account of its Pulitzer Prize-winning former resident?
— David Haglund, Slate

Buy all of John Updike's books here...

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Local Food (For Thought) Movement

From: WeHeartIt

"If, like us, your Twitter feed is on fire today with more colorful versions of the sentiment, 'Screw you, Slate,' allow us to explain what’s going on: Slate’s technology columnist, Farhad Manjoo, has published a piece in which he argues that we should all abandon independent bookstores for Amazon. The column is response to Richard Russo’s New York Times op-ed, in which the author criticizes a particularly disgusting promotion that had the online retailer rewarding shoppers for finding a copy of a book they wanted to buy in a local bookstore, scanning the barcode, and buying it on Amazon instead.
     While Manjoo concedes that this particularly customer-poaching strategy was a poor idea, he doesn’t agree that consumers should support independent bookstores — which he calls 'cultish, moldering institutions' — over the Internet giant. Aside from being cheaper (because they can afford to buy books in bulk and don’t have to pay overhead on retail space) and boasting a wider selection (because Amazon’s warehouses are more spacious than any individual store), Manjoo believes that independent book sellers just aren’t very user-friendly, suffering from 'no customer reviews, no reliable way to find what you’re looking for, and a dubious recommendations engine.'
     I find it sad, actually, that Manjoo — a generally sharp and smart technology writer — finds clicking around on Amazon to be more fun than browsing the shelves of a real-life bookstore where (gasp!) one might actually interact with other book lovers."
— Judy Berman, FlavorWire

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Immersion Therapy

Most people can’t, or at least don’t, read a 925-page book in a couple of nights. In fact, if you happen to have any of the following: (i) a television, (ii) access to the Internet, (iii) one or more children, (iv) regular bathing habits, or (v) gainful employment in a job where your responsibilities do not include getting paid to read books, it would probably be difficult to finish a book this long in a week, or even two. Life just gets in the way. For argument’s sake, let’s assume it would be closer to a month, a month in which a typical person might take 30 showers, eat 90 meals, spend maybe 200 hours at work. [...]
      This kind of world-shifting is possible with Haruki Murakami’s new novel [1Q84] (originally published in Japan in serial form as three books), which opens with Aomame, a young woman living in Tokyo, stuck in traffic, in a taxi, on the highway. The year is 1984, and Aomame is very late for work, which is a big deal, given that Aomame is no accountant or lawyer, but rather a contract killer specializing in the murder of men who abuse their wives. On the advice of the cab driver, Aomame decides that it would be a good idea to walk along the shoulder of the highway, and climb down an emergency stairway in order to get down into the subway station and to her assignment on time. Only, when Aomame emerges from the stairway, she picks up on subtle hints (the cut of a policeman’s uniform is slightly different, the firearm he is carrying is a different model) that her shortcut may have been an exit in more ways than one. The world has shifted, or perhaps she has shifted between worlds. In the words of Aomame’s cryptic cab driver, 'things are not what they seem.' [...]
     The novel is strongest when it sticks to its most powerful idea, the one implied by its title: the world as a kind of question. Early on in the book, Tengo thinks to himself that the role of a story is, 'in the broadest terms, to transpose a single problem into another form.' Murakami starts with the problem, what is real? and he transposes it into another form, an entire world, slightly revised. Murakami’s 925-page novel seems to be suggesting that, when you get down to it, the key to the question is love.”
— Charles Yu, Los Angeles Review of Books

Get this book here...

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Full Treatment

From: DIY Gadgets

"The news last week that HBO had optioned the works of William Faulkner for adaptation by Deadwood creator David Milch was treated in some press reports as incongruous. It shouldn’t have been. The mindless take on Deadwood is that it had a lot of swearing in it (which it did, but so what? — get over it, for cryin’ out loud!), yet viewers not mesmerized by the four-letter words noticed the Shakespearean and King Jamesian cadences of Milch’s dialogue from the start. Those influences are evident in Faulkner’s fiction, as well. (Also, let’s not forget we’re talking about a man who wrote a novel in which a woman is raped with a corncob — this isn’t Merchant-Ivory territory.) Milch and Faulkner is, in fact, an inspired pairing. [...]
     Television and the novel, while not exactly soul mates, have a lot more in common than the novel and theatrical film. Yet any novelist can testify that the second most common question he or she hears from readers (after 'Where do you get your ideas?') is 'Who would you like to see playing [main character] in the movie?' Fantasizing about the film version of a favorite book seems to be very common, but you have to wonder why. Rarely are a book’s most devoted admirers satisfied by the film, although when they are — as with the Harry Potter, Twilight and The Lord of the Rings franchises — popular enthusiasm can certainly be enormous.
     Far more often, however, the results are disappointing — let the recent adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go stand as a case in point. Much of a novel has to be cut to fit a 90- to 120-minute dramatization, and this can mean more than just the loss of supporting characters or scenes. Most movies conform to a three-act structure (some screenwriters will insist that it’s actually a four-act structure), a form with a proven ability to hold audiences’ interest through a single viewing. Novels, meant to be read over multiple sittings, have more freedom. Trimming a novel like Bleak House to fit the three-act format alters the fundamental shape of the work, often subtracting from the novel the very roominess and complication that made you love it in the first place.
     A television series, however, has the time to spread out and explore the byways and textures of a novel’s imagined world. Furthermore, while theatrical film is a medium in which the director reigns, in television, as Rushdie told the Observer, 'the writer is the primary creative artist. You have control in a way that you never have in the cinema. The Sopranos was David Chase, The West Wing was Aaron Sorkin.' "
— Laura Miller, Salon

Conscience Raising

"Alice Oswald was seen as a strong contender for the TS Eliot prize, so her withdrawal from the shortlist this week (followed by that of John Kinsella) was a significant sacrifice. She did so in protest against the long-standing poetry award's new sponsor Aurum, which manages the investments of hedge funds, stating that 'poetry should be questioning not endorsing such institutions.'
     Like Hari Kunzru's rejection of the Mail on Sunday-backed John Llewellyn Rhys prize in 2003 (saying the paper was 'xenophobic'), Oswald's stance was unusual in being political, not personal; today's writers with qualms turn up but criticise the prize-givers, as Ian McEwan did this year in controversially accepting the Jerusalem prize."

"[...] But this year has seen something of a trend developing in dropping out from potential literary honours. In March, the master of spy thrillers John le Carré asked to be removed from the Man Booker International shortlist, stating that 'I do not compete for literary prizes' Now two poets, Alice Oswald and John Kinsella, are the latest to object to being nominated for a literary honour – this time, the TS Eliot Prize awarded by the Poetry Book Society."
— Emma Hogan, The Telegraph

"A year ago today [December 10], on International Human Rights Day, our colleague Liu Xiaobo, former president of the Independent Chinese PEN Centre (ICPC) was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. One year on, he and over thirty other writers remain in prison in China. PEN International demands their immediate and unconditional release, and calls upon its members to take action to publicise the deteriorating human rights climate in the People’s Republic of China.
     John Ralston Saul, President of PEN International, says: ‘Liu Xiaobo’s words will not disappear whether he is isolated in prison or released. These are Chinese ideas that will continue to spread of their own volition. However, by keeping him in jail, the Chinese authorities are putting a loud speaker to his words. They should free him and let ideas take their natural course.’
     Liu Xiaobo was arrested on 8 December 2008 and held under ‘residential surveillance,’ a form of pre-trial detention, at an undisclosed location in Beijing until he was formally charged on 23 June 2009 with ‘spreading rumours and defaming the government, aimed at subversion of the state and overthrowing the socialism system in recent years.’ He was sentenced to eleven years in prison on 25 December 2009 for his critical writings and his role in launching Charter 08, a declaration calling for political reforms and human rights published on 9 December 2008, which now has over 10,000 signatories from throughout China. Since 22 October 2010, two weeks after the Nobel announcement was made, his wife Liu Xia, a poet and photographer, has been held incommunicado under strict house arrest at her home in Beijing and is denied any contact with the outside world. At the December 2010 Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony in Oslo, Liu Xiaobo’s medal and diploma were presented to an empty chair."
PEN International

Imitating Art

From: Cover Browser

"Everette Howard Hunt, Jr. (October 9, 1918 – January 23, 2007) was an American intelligence officer and writer. Hunt served for many years as a CIA officer. Hunt, with G. Gordon Liddy and others, was one of the Nixon White House 'plumbers' — a secret team of operatives charged with fixing 'leaks.' Hunt, along with Liddy, engineered the first Watergate burglary, and other undercover operations for Nixon. In the ensuing Watergate Scandal, Hunt was convicted of burglary, conspiracy and wiretapping, eventually serving 33 months in prison.
     Hunt was born in Hamburg, New York, United States, of English and Welsh descent. An alumnus of Nichols School in Buffalo, New York and a 1940 graduate of Brown University, Hunt during World War II served in the U.S. Navy on the destroyer USS Mayo, United States Army Air Forces, and finally, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) which he worked for in China. During and after the war, he also wrote several novels under his own name — East of Farewell (1942), Limit of Darkness (1944), Stranger in Town (1947), Bimini Run (1949) (with a hero named 'Hank Sturgis'), and The Violent Ones (1950) — and, more famously, several spy and hardboiled novels under an array of pseudonyms, including Robert Dietrich, Gordon Davis and David St. John. Hunt won a Guggenheim Fellowship for his writing in 1946.
     Warner Bros. had just bought rights to Hunt's novel Bimini Run when he joined the CIA in October 1949 as a political action specialist, in what came to be called their Special Activities Division. The CIA was the successor organization of the OSS. Hunt became station chief in Mexico City in 1950, and supervised William F. Buckley, Jr., who worked for the CIA in Mexico during the period 1951–1952. Buckley and Hunt remained lifelong friends.
     In Mexico, Hunt helped devise Operation PBSUCCESS, the covert plan to overthrow Jacobo Arbenz, the elected president of Guatemala. Following assignments in Japan and as station chief in Uruguay, Hunt was given the assignment of forging Cuban exile leaders in the United States into a broadly representative government-in-exile that would, after the Bay of Pigs Invasion, form a provisional government to take over Cuba. The failure of the invasion damaged his career.
     After the Bay of Pigs, Hunt became a personal assistant to Allen Dulles. Tad Szulc states that Hunt was asked to assist Dulles in writing a book, The Craft of Intelligence, that Dulles wrote following his involuntary retirement as CIA head in 1961. The book was published in 1963." — Wikipedia

Friday, December 9, 2011

Big Voice; Short Song

From: 1,000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die

"Little Willie John was a small man with a big voice, an outsized talent who could croon and growl, sing ballads and rhythm and blues, dig deep into his lower register and hit high notes that took the wind out of lesser tenors. He was also a fierce performer; not even James Brown, the Hardest Working Man in Show Business, wanted to follow Little Willie John on a bill.
     In the late 1950s, before Motown and the British Invasion, Little Willie John owned rhythm and blues. In Susan Whitall’s authorized biography (written with John’s older son, Kevin, and the cooperation of his widow, Darlynn John), he emerges as a 'singer’s singer,' admired by the likes of Solomon Burke, Little Richard, Sam Cooke, and Stevie Wonder, who wrote a foreword for the book. But his promising career — which took off in 1955 when a teenaged Little Willie released his first hit record, 'All Around the World,' on Syd Nathan’s independent King label — was cut short by a series of disasters that left him broke, indebted to King, and convicted of second-degree murder. When he died in May 1968, authorities at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, where Willie John was serving an eight- to 20-year sentence for manslaughter, attributed it to a heart attack. But friends and family, who have never obtained the prison report of a purported autopsy, doubted that Willie John had died of 'natural' causes. [...]
     Given the circumstances of Little Willie John’s last years, it is difficult to come up with a narrative of his career that does not in some ways frame it in tragic terms. Yet Whitall sets herself the task of writing Willie John’s story in a manner that avoids the formulaic nature of 'so many mawkish online biographies' of the singer, which focus on his 'doomed and violent' temperament. In Fever [: Little Willie John: A Fast Life, Mysterious Death and the Birth of Soul] she has succeeded in doing this, breathing life into the story of Willie’s rapid ascent in the mid and late 1950s as one of R & B’s most respected and influential singers, a voice of such power that it blasts through the ensuing decades, demanding to be heard. She does this without the benefit of much, if any, preserved film footage of Little Willie’s performances, relying instead on the sonic and print archive and the memories of family members, music industry veterans, and fellow musicians, who struggle to find the superlatives to represent Little Willie’s charismatic stage presence and virtuoso talent."
— Gayl Wald, The Los Angeles Review of Books

Get Fever: Little Willie John: A Fast Life, Mysterious Death and the Birth of Soul by Susan Whitall with Kevin John here...

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Bad Bard

Source image: Tax Lawyer's Blog

"According to [Leslie] Hotson’s researches, Shakespeare was an energetic, quick-witted but only sketchily educated country boy—perfect qualifications for someone trying to make his way in the bohemian and morally dubious world of the theater. That world was far from respectable in those days; that is why London’s playhouses were clustered on the south bank of the Thames, in the borough of Southwark, outside the jurisdiction of the City of London–and why the document Hotson discovered lies with the Surrey writs and not among those dealing with London proper.
     As a newcomer to the big city, Hotson realized, Shakespeare was obliged to begin his career on a lowly rung, working for disreputable theater people—which, at that time, was generally regarded as akin to working in a brothel. Theaters were meeting places for people whose interest in the opposite sex did not extend to marriage; they were also infested with crooks, pimps and prostitutes, and attracted an audience whose interest in the performance on stage was often minimal. This, of course, explains why the Puritans were so quick to ban public entertainments when they got the chance. [...]
     There is plenty of evidence elsewhere that Shakespeare was somewhat less than a sensitive poet and entirely honest citizen. Legal records show that him dodging from rented room to rented room while defaulting on a few shillings’ worth of tax payments in 1596, 1598 and 1599—though why he went to so much trouble remains obscure, since the totals demanded were tiny compared to the sums that other records suggest he was spending on property at the same time. He also sued at least three men for equally insignificant sums. Nor was Will’s reputation among other literary men too good; when a rival playwright, Robert Greene, was on his deathbed, he condemned Shakespeare for having  'purloined his plumes'—that is, cheated him out of his literary property—and warned others not to fall into the hands of this 'upstart crow.' "

And see a related article here...

Monday, December 5, 2011

"[...] the old environment is upgraded into an art form while the new conditions are regarded as corrupt and degrading." — Marshall McLuhan

From: BookOasis

"Even as more readers switch to the convenience of e-books, publishers are giving old-fashioned print books a makeover.
     Many new releases have design elements usually reserved for special occasions — deckle edges, colored endpapers, high-quality paper and exquisite jackets that push the creative boundaries of bookmaking. If e-books are about ease and expedience, the publishers reason, then print books need to be about physical beauty and the pleasures of owning, not just reading.
     'When people do beautiful books, they’re noticed more,' said Robert S. Miller, the publisher of Workman Publishing. 'It’s like sending a thank-you note written on nice paper when we’re in an era of e-mail correspondence.'
     The eagerly anticipated 925-page novel by Haruki Murakami, 1Q84, arrived in bookstores in October wrapped in a translucent jacket with the arresting gaze of a young woman peering through. A new novel by Stephen King about the Kennedy assassination, 11/22/63, has an intricate book jacket and, unusual for fiction, photographs inside. The paperback edition of Jay-Z’s memoir Decoded features a shiny gold Rorschach on the cover, and in March the front of The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller will bear an embossed helmet sculpted with punctures, cracks and texture, giving the image a 3-D effect."— Julie Bossman, The New York Times

Sunday, December 4, 2011


From: Manhattan Rare Book Company

"A new biography [And So It Goes, by Charles Shields] of acclaimed American author Kurt Vonnegut, beloved by fans worldwide for his work's warm humour and homespun Midwestern wisdom, has shocked many with a portrayal of a bitter, angry man prone to depression and fits of temper. [...]
     'It is a little naive to be surprised by this,' said Gregory Sumner of the University of Detroit Mercy, who recently wrote a book exploring Vonnegut's work, called Unstuck In Time. 'Personal relationships were difficult for him. He had a lot of survivor's guilt.'
     Vonnegut definitely had survived a lot. His once wealthy family was impoverished by the Great Depression, causing grim strains in his parents' marriage. His mother committed suicide. His beloved sister died of breast cancer, a day after her husband was killed in a train accident. But the defining horror of Vonnegut's life was his wartime experience and surviving the Dresden bombing, only to be sent into the ruins as prison labour in order to collect and burn the corpses. The ordeal cropped up continually in his work, but most notably formed the basis of Slaughterhouse-Five, the book that made Vonnegut famous.
     But there was more to it than just coping with such traumatic situations. In later life, despite being hailed by so many as an American genius, Vonnegut felt that the literary establishment never took him seriously. They interpreted his simplistic style, love of science fiction and Midwestern values as being beneath serious study." — Paul Harris, Guardian

Get And So It Goes, Unstuck In Time, and all of Kurt Vonnegut's books here...

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Soft Boiled

From: Folksy

"Of all the thousands of sleazy, trashy PG-rated paperback books published in the 1960's, those with the extraordinary covers produced by Eugene Bilbrew, Eric Stanton, Bill Ward and Bill Alexander stand out and stand above. This quartet of illustrators with interlocking lives and complicated connections produced an abundance of work. All were bright, light-hearted depictions of the darker-side of sexuality. All were also in the employ of a mobster. The work produced by 'The Fun Fetish Four' was aimed at baser instincts and somewhat abhorrent taste, but for the most part were harmless if a bit strange.
     In addition to the artists, a fascinating gaggle of gangsters, smutsters, peddlers and speed-driven writers are involved in this story. This site collects and reproduces a series of posts placed on Dull Tool Dim Bulb during 2009. It will be obvious I have not edited or corrected much.
     The publishers of these soft-core novels were hounded by moral crusaders and ultimately put out of business. The owners didn't comply with rules and regulations to begin with (using phony addresses, avoiding tax laws and featuring questionable content) Larger publishers who used 'better' illustrators and 'real' authors garner the most attention from legitimate collectors and aficionados. More accomplished (that is, more 'painterly') illustrators have had their work better documented, detailed and appreciated. As the books here were mob-commissioned, distributed in darkness and displayed under the counter more often than in racks, they are today scarcer than more legitimate and more often seen mainstream paperbacks, even those which fall into the broad 'vintage sleaze' category. Printed in editions of around 10,000 copies (a guess) they were fugitive literature, undocumented and born outside more established channels of publication. In fact, more traditional scholars and collectors sneered at them until several folks thanked below brought them back to life.[...]
     I also found the fact that two of these artists were African-American quite curious and worthy of study. Black artists in general, and historically, have been neglected by the mainstream art and publishing world. In fact, dozens of the most important artists of the 20th century are African-Americans who existed on the outside of our understanding of art. That they would find themselves producing work for an underground certainly isn't unusual...Jazz and Blues arose from somewhat dicey circumstances after all, so why shouldn't the illustrators. Additionally, the story of how these young comic book artists hooked up with the Jewish Mafia and the fellows who photographed Bettie Page is remarkable indeed." — Jim Linderman, Vintage Sleaze

Friday, December 2, 2011

Squids in Space

From: Good Show Sir

"Many of her casual readers, and most critics of her work, are aware by now that Margaret Atwood got herself into a spot of bother after the publication of her pulpish dystopia Oryx and Crake (2003), when she disassociated her text from the conversation of SF, the underlying megatext of conventions, phrases, solutions, tags and cliches which honest Science Fiction writers both acknowledge and make new in their works, and which has evolved enormously over the years.
     Despite her conspicuous use of SF topoi copied holus-bolus as they existed half a century ago — i.e., the Superman Mad Scientist who Ends the World while Simultaneously Creating a New Species to Inhabit the Remains — she claimed in 2003 that what she wrote was not Science Fiction at all, because Science Fiction was all about squids in space. [...]
     In 2003, Ursula K. Le Guin — a writer of singular importance to the field not only for her fiction but for her critical work — made it clear that the squids-in-space bon mot was genuinely discourteous. But her measured rebuke seems to have made little difference. Atwood has now reiterated her claim almost unmodified, in her latest book, In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination [New York: Doubleday/Nan A Talese, 2011. 255 pp.]. It may be that like a lobster in a trap who cannot find the exit door, Atwood cannot work her way out of the perplex of ill-judged subjectivity in which she had trapped herself: perhaps because, as with any statement of belief as opposed to argument, her 'definition' of SF is as unfalsifiable as any sermon. [...]
     When she genuinely relaxes, though, it is not all bad. The [Richard Ellmann Lectures presented in 2010 at Emory University] themselves give us, in three sections combining memoir and excursus, an attractive picture of the young Atwood discovering fantastika in general, SF in particular. Her early reading was clearly intense, and she conveys a sense of that sensual intensity here through some dextrous narrative passagework, though without giving any large number of specific textual referents. Indeed — to return to the main burden of complaint about the failure of In Other Worlds to argue its case — it is noticeable that, utopias and dystopias excepted, almost no SF novels published after the early 1950s are either mentioned explicitly or by inference, with the exception of William Gibson (but stopping short at  , which is treated as both utopian and dystopian, but not as an SF prayer to the Gods Inside Tomorrow), Ursula Le Guin (inescapable chider and presider) and Bruce Sterling (for his Slipstream riff) [see more here]. I may be failing to remember others, but the book (or at least my advance review copy) contains no index. As far as “SF and the Human Imagination,” we are left with teen encounters with pulp, and the extremities of the utopian mind (which mainly, I think wrongly, are extrinsic to the line and structure of SF itself). As far as the megatext is concerned, nought. There is no there there."
— John Clute, Los Angeles Review of Books

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Whole Story...


"[E-books] smell like burned fuel."—Ray Bradbury

Source photo from: Wikipedia

"At age 91, Ray Bradbury is making peace with the future he helped predict.
     The science fiction/fantasy author and long-time enemy of the e-book has finally allowed his dystopian classic Fahrenheit 451 to be published in digital format. Simon & Schuster released the electronic edition Tuesday.
     First published in 1953, Fahrenheit 451 has sold more than 10 million copies and has been translated into 33 languages. It imagined a world in which the appetite for new and faster media leads to a decline in reading, and books are banned and burned.
     Bradbury himself has been an emphatic defender of traditional paper texts, saying that e-books 'smell like burned fuel' and calling the Internet nothing but 'a big distraction.' "
— The Globe and Mail

"Scientists may not be able to tell a good book by its cover, but they now can tell the condition of an old book by its smell. In a report in ACS' Analytical Chemistry, a semi-monthly journal, they describe development of a new test that can measure the degradation of old books and precious historical documents based on their smell. The nondestructive 'sniff' test could help libraries and museums preserve a range of prized paper-based objects, some of which are degrading rapidly due to advancing age, the scientists say. [...]
     The new technique, called 'material degradomics,' analyzes the gases emitted by old books and documents without altering the documents themselves. They used it to 'sniff' 72 historical papers from the 19th and 20th centuries, including papers containing rosin (pine tar) and wood fiber, which are the most rapidly degrading paper types in old books. The scientists identified 15 VOCs [volatile organic compounds] that seem good candidates as markers to track the degradation of paper in order to optimize their preservation. The method also could help preserve other historic artifacts, they add."
— Michael Berstein, EurekAlert
Read more..

From: Breathing Books

“Can images reproduce the unimaginable?” [Marco Sonzogni] asks. “And how are those images to be interpreted?”

Winning design: Anna Zysko (Poland)

There is no right or final answer with a book cover. Where music albums are forever identified with the artwork that clad them on release, book covers change and change again. Over time a much-reprinted novel or short story collection will generate scores of different cover designs around the world. While the visual interpretation of any book’s contents can be taxing, with some books the stakes are especially high.
     Tadeusz Borowski’s This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen is that kind of publication. Los Angeles architect and book lover John Bertram has organized a series of cover design competitions in which he asks designers to interpret a demanding work of fiction. In 2010, with the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland in Los Angeles as co-sponsor, Bertram set the challenge of designing a cover for Borowski’s harrowingly bleak collection of 12 stories based on the writer’s experiences in Auschwitz. These speculative covers later became the starting point for a fascinating visual and literary study — This Way: Covering/Uncovering Tadeusz Borowski’s This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen — edited by Marco Sonzogni, with Bertram’s help, and published in April this year.
     I read Borowski’s book, available in the U.S. as a Penguin Classic, a few years ago. I had never heard of it until I happened to see it in a bookstore. From the author’s Polish name and the ferocious irony of the title, it was obvious what it was about and the cover photograph of something fiery and blackened (burnt metal, though the subject is unclear) clinched my desire to read it. The image played menacingly against the title — it could be interpreted as a deadly miasma — and had great metaphorical power without stating anything specific."
— Rick Poynor, The Design Observer Group

Buy these books here...

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Grudging Witnesses

"Louisa May Alcott and Walt Whitman served as nurses and eyewitness reporters in the hideous Union hospitals in Washington, D. C. Alcott contracted typhoid in the septic wards and wrote Little Women, about the daughters of a father wounded in the war, while treating herself with mercury. Whitman ministered to the needs of wounded soldiers while also keeping a careful visual record of everything he saw, 'this other freight of helpless worn and wounded youth,' as he wrote to Emerson. 'Doctors sawed arms & legs off from morning till night,' he reported in his journal. He was dismayed to see 'a heap of feet, arms, legs, etc., under a tree in front of a hospital.' As he moved from bed to bed in the overcrowded wards, he was shocked by the youth of the victims. 'Charles Miller, bed 19, company D, 53rd Pennsylvania, is only sixteen years of age, very bright, courageous boy, left leg amputated below the knee.'
     The remarkable medical photographs of the Civil War surgeon-photographer Reed Bontecou—now published in their entirety for the first time [Shooting Soldiers: Civil War Medical Photography By R.b. Bontecou by Stanley B. Burns] and recently shown at The Robert Anderson gallery in New York—bring us closer still. Bontecou, from Troy, New York, was a classifier of seashells and an ornithologist who had traveled in the Amazon before the war collecting specimens. A pioneer in surgical procedures known for the dexterity and speed of his operations, he was also a photographer of genius. His iconic image, 'A Morning’s Work,' shows a pile of amputated legs he himself had sawed off earlier that day."
— Christopher Benfey, The New York Review of Books

"A remarkable number of well known authors were ambulance drivers during World War I. Among them were Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, E.E. Cummings, and Somerset Maugham. Robert Service, the writer of Yukon poetry including The Shooting of Dan McGrew, and Charles Nordhoff, co-author of Mutiny On the Bounty, drove ambulances in the Great War. [...]
     If the list were expanded to include those working in medically related fields during the war, such names as Gertrude Stein, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, and E.M. Forster could be added."

Strokes Of The Pen: Faust, The Devil, And "Cultivating Literary Friendships"

From: The Manhattan Rare Book Company

"It’s hard to explain to writing students that there are pods of very friendly, arguably moral authors who treat each other as if the literary life is led on a firing range. They meet you alertly, brightly drawing from natty holsters their own signs of power, rank and aid, and then requesting that you do the same. They aren’t evil, really, and the impulse behind it is so close to camaraderie it almost smells right. We all need help, and we all want to help each other, which makes the nuances of the transaction murky. Some people never see the problem at all and others treat every request like you’re asking for a toe of which they are particularly fond. In the end, parsing the aspirational nature of literary friendship is as much of a longshot as sexing the yeti. [...]
     But I thought I’d give it a shot, and luckily I had help. Because I’m a collector of art and old books, I get email notifications of auctions, and the day I was to lecture my students, an old autographed letter appeared on the Ira & Larry Goldberg auction site. It illustrated the nature of 'transactional' so beautifully I read it aloud that night.
     It’s a one-page, single-spaced TLS (as they say) [Typed Letter Signed]
from William Faulkner. He is reacting to a request for a blurb in this, 1961, his final full year of life. To summarize the career until then: he’d struggled, his work had gone out of print, he’d almost drunk himself to death in Hollywood, where he was a failure. In 1946, washed up, spit out, he’d had his forgotten work reissued in The Portable Faulkner. This was the lightning and the thunder that changed his life. Seemingly overnight, he made an entire region of America a viable place to pan for talent and story, he won the Nobel Prize, he won the Pulitzer and the National Book Award too, and by January 1961, he’d spent about 15 years taking what comforts he could as a celebrated, revered, and golden writer.

From: AllStarPics
     The addressee is named Joan Williams. She is 30 years old, and she’s written the manuscript for a first novel called The Morning and the Evening. I mention this because Faulkner doesn’t begin it with 'Dear Miss Williams.' [...]"
— Glen David Gold, Los Angeles Review of Books

Buy all the books mentioned in this article here...

Monday, November 28, 2011

Scribo Ergo Sum

"Franz Kafka was a legal secretary at the Workmen's Accident Insurance Institute for the Kingdom of Bohemia in Prague (later: In the Czech Lands), where he wrote reports like 'Accident Prevention in Quarries,' and rose to a top office position, Obersekretär. Though his bureaucratic labors bore literary fruit—providing context and imagery for his fiction writing—Kafka came to feel bogged down by the daily grind. 'Writing and office cannot be reconciled, since writing has its center of gravity in depth, whereas the office is on the surface of life,' he wrote to his fiancée in 1913. 'So it goes up and down, and one is bound to be torn asunder in the process.'
     T.S. Eliot, on the other hand, was inclined to keep his day job even after it was financially necessary. When the Bloomsbury group offered to set up a fund that would allow him sufficient funding to become a full-time writer, the poet turned them down. 'This idea that Eliot should be freed from the drudgery of work misses the point that he was actually very interested in the minutiae of everyday life—he was a commentator on the quotidian,' British Library curator Rachel Foss told The Guardian. [...]
     Says Von Arbin Ahlander, 'We're kidding ourselves if we think we can make a living on writing.' As for the romantic ideal of the leisurely writer life, slowly crafting one's masterpiece in the calm solitude of a big, empty house: 'I mean, that's over,' she added, 'Unless you're a trust fund baby.'
     Though it's rare to make a living on writing, it's becoming increasingly easy to call yourself one. Without any money at all, anyone can publish digitally with the click of a button or, for a price, self-publish a print manuscript. The ecology of authorship has changed dramatically since, say March 1845, when Charlotte Brontë was working as a governess, miserable, and wrote in a letter, 'I shall soon be 30 and I have done nothing yet.' "— Betsy Morais, The Atlantic

Sunday, November 27, 2011

"Patience is the companion of wisdom." – St. Augustine

From: eBay

"Speaking through a Ouija board operated by Pearl Lenore Curran, a St. Louis housewife of limited education, Patience Worth was nothing short of a national phenomenon in the early years of the 20th century. Though her works are virtually forgotten today, the prestigious Braithwaite anthology listed five of her poems among the nation’s best published in 1917, and the New York Times hailed her first novel as a 'feat of literary composition.' Her output was stunning. In addition to seven books, she produced voluminous poetry, short stories, plays and reams of sparkling conversation—nearly four million words between 1913 and 1937. Some evenings she worked on a novel, a poem and a play simultaneously, alternating her dictation from one to another without missing a beat. 'What is extraordinary about this case is the fluidity, versatility, virtuosity and literary quality of Patience’s writings, which are unprecedented in the history of automatic writing by mediums,' says Stephen Braude, a professor of philosophy at the University of Maryland Baltimore County and a past president of the American Parapsychological Association, who has written widely on paranormal phenomena.
     Almost overnight, Patience transformed Pearl Curran from a restless homemaker plagued by nervous ailments into a busy celebrity who traveled the country giving performances starring Patience. Night after night Pearl, a tall, blue-eyed woman in a fashionable dress, would sit with her Ouija board while her husband, John, recorded Patience’s utterances in shorthand. Those who witnessed the performances, some of them leading scholars, feminists, politicians and writers, believed they’d seen a miracle. 'I still confess myself completely baffled by the experience,' Otto Heller, dean of the Graduate School at Washington University in St. Louis, recalled years later.
     Through Pearl, Patience claimed to be an unmarried Englishwoman who had emigrated to Nantucket Island in the late 1600s and been killed in an Indian raid. For three centuries, she said, she’d searched for an earthly 'crannie' (as in 'cranium') to help her fulfill a burning literary ambition. She’d found it at last in Pearl." — Gioia Diliberto, Smithsonian